Meyer's team, however, knows they're in store for a long week as it continues to grow from early season question marks.
The Buckeyes will play their final non-conference game at home against UAB next weekend. Before the page is turned to the next opponent, here are some thoughts (in no particular order) from the team's win over the Bears in the latest version of Sunday Observation:
Braxton Miller can throw it a little – Opposing defenses will continue to make stopping Miller's running ability a top priority, but Meyer had to be pleased what he saw out of his quarterback. Not only did Miller have yet another electrifying touchdown run – a 55-yard scamper to the end zone after highlight-worthy juke move – but the quarterback posted a career-high four touchdown passes. Though there was some eratic passing in the second half, his 249-yard passing performance was quite the response to a Bears defense that wasn't going to simply let him run all over the place. It was the ideal game for Miller, at least in my mind, as he carried the ball only 12 times and carved up the opposition in a variety of different ways.
He's human, and still young – The signs of blooming greatness are there for Miller, but so are the reminders of his youth. Let's not forget after Cal tied the game at 28 late in the contest that he threw a crucial interception with the game on the line. Had the Bears converted that into points at that point, this interception would be a much bigger story. The biggest thing you can take away from Miller's game was that he made plays when his team needed them the most, but there is still plenty of room to grow.
Tackling becoming an issue? – One of the biggest knocks on OSU defenses of the past were its struggles tackling at times, but the Buckeyes' effort against Cal has to be one of the worst tackling performances I've seen in a long time. The Bears put up 512 yards of total offense, but how many of those plays were extended because the players on the Buckeyes defense missed tackles? I can think of two plays – both of Brendan Bigelow's long touchdown runs – that happened as a result of poor tackling efforts. Meyer's "Bloody Tuesday" practices were supposed to concentrate on being physical, but there wasn't much to be proud of watching the Buckeyes defense repeatedly miss tackles. It could have cost them the game.
Bri'onte Dunn and Rod Smith aren't ready – The talk all week was about both young running backs having to pick up the slack for Carlos Hyde, who will miss a couple of weeks while out with a knee sprain. Well, neither running back carried the football against Cal and Jordan Hall toted the rock 17 times. Even though Meyer isn't afraid to admit he has more faith in Hall, I think it is telling that neither player got in the game to carry the ball at all. I think that means Meyer isn't completely comfortable with either getting meaningful reps in a close game just yet.
Hall got more work than I expected – I think it was clear that Hall wasn't quite as explosive as he has been in the past, but I am going to say its because it was his first game back. He had to shake off the rust – he even told me after the game that he is still adjusting back to full speed. However, I do firmly believe that his recovery process was sped up an extra week given Hyde wasn't available. While that is all well and good, I am pretty surprised that he carried the ball as much as he did. Makes you think twice about what Meyer thinks of some of the other backs on the roster (see above).
Cal staff dropped the ball – Cal had all the momentum in the world – and more than 500 yards of total offense – when it faced fourth-and-1 from OSU's 25-yard line. The game was tied and there was less than five minutes on the clock. Jeff Tedford sent his field goal kicker on the field and Vincenzo D'Amato missed his third attempt of the day, all of which sailed wide left. That's the moment Cal lost the game. I don't know how Cal's staff justified sending its shaky kicker on the field, on the road, with a chance to come up with a big upset. There's so much to gain by converting it – better field position, a chance to bleed the clock and a chance at a touchdown, to name a few – and the Bears coaching staff didn't go for it. Still can't believe that decision with a chance at the monumental upset that close in their realm.
John Simon showed up in multiple ways – Long before I ever found out that Simon almost didn't play because of a shoulder injury, it was clear to me that he had the most productive game of his season. Though he was only credited with one tackle – a third-quarter sack on a third down that brought an end to a Bear drive – he had a major impact. He constantly got penetration ate up blockers in the backfield and was a relentless pest to Cal's offensive efforts. We came to find out after the game that he had a very inspiring postgame speech where he became emotional and Meyer was so impressed that the coach said would consider naming his next child "Urban John Simon Meyer" (if he had one). I don't think I could encompass what he means to this team if I tried, both on and off the field.
Nathan Williams goes hard, again – I thought it was interesting how much Williams played, especially after having to miss last week because he was too sore to recover from his workload from the season-opener. The only thing I can think of to explain his amount of play is OSU's coaching staff keeping him out there because it was a close game, knowing that it was better to have him out there against Cal than to save him for the UAB game. If not, it may make more sense to be more cognizant of his play count, especially if his status is going to be considered on a week-to-week basis.
Devin Smith is special – It's hard to forget about some of the drops Smith had early in the game, which is proof he still has some work to do before becoming a complete receiver, but it is clear he's a special talent. As I have said 100 times, Smith has the inherent ability to make big plays when the team needs them the most. His 72-yard game-clinching touchdown reception was more proof that he'll continue to be someone that is on the spot when the Buckeyes need a big play.
Curtis Grant not yet ready for this role? – The former five-star recruit was put to the test early against the Bears and he didn't play very well. That caused co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell to rotate Storm Klein into the game, which can't be a good sign given Klein missed most of fall camp while not with the team with legal issues. This was supposed to be Grant's time, but it is becoming clear that he has a lot to learn before he locks down his position. Middle linebacker continues to be a concern for the team, though it may be covered up as the Buckeyes go to more nickel as the season progresses.